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What Happiness Feels Like in a Borderline Brain


I will tell you about my self-harming, my suicidal ideation, my dissociative episodes — pretty much all my deepest, darkest moments. In fact, having borderline personality disorder (BPD), I will overshare — bursting out such uncomfortable gems to anyone and everyone, at maybe not the best of moments. I will desperately try illustrating that’s it’s OK to talk about it all, so I can also feel justified in doing so.

But how on earth do I begin to explain how ‘happiness’ feels within my borderline brain? I would find it easier to tell you about my most shameful violent outburst than to tell you what’s really going on inside when you see me seemingly full of smiles and laughter.

When I’m not feeling down, maybe you might assume I’d be relaxed, calm or content. I’m afraid you’d be wrong. Every emotion I feel, be it good or bad, is inevitably turned up to maximum. And despite the emotional management skills I’ve learned, my condition is not an illness I can just recover from. It is intrinsically who I am; it’s a disorder within my personality, so it’s not something I can easily hide when I’m on a date or joining friends in the pub, especially in such situations when excitement or anticipation is enhanced by alcohol.

Happiness, for me, is feeling the blood coursing through my veins, pumping so fast it makes my heart race, my fingers tingle and my head foggy. My skull feels like it could crack open with the pressure mounting. I feel like it’s a wonderfully sunny day, but it’s far too hot on my skin and my eyes are blinded. It’s talking full-speed and talking over you, seemingly not stopping to care what you have to say. It’s oversharing with an exhausting spiel of antidotes and probably sounding like a bitchy gossip because everything is black and white, love and hate to me. It’s feeling the need to make sure everyone around me is feeling as invincible and euphoric as I am, needing to fix everyone’s problems. It’s never wanting the party to end and therefore being the last to leave, or otherwise going home with someone, anyone, in a desperate bid to keep hold of the high.

My brain shouts at me, “If the world seems wonderful right now then surely let’s just keep going with the drinking, the smoking, the spending, the partying?” My impulsivity decimates any forward thinking and often, in turn, my bank balance, my health and my reputation. For me, happiness with BPD is a wild ride of mania that results in relentless shame, self-doubt, regrets and apologies. It is inevitably more public and therefore humiliating, because of course feeling “up” equals feeling sociable, being out and about rather than when I’m low at home in the safe private confines of my bed. It’s also often harder to get off the emotional roller coaster and see the potential dangers ahead of me in social situations. And in the midst of my “happy” mania, I am incapable of visualizing what it must be like for you, my friends, to be on the outside looking in without a full awareness of what is raging inside me.

I am known and loved by many for my hedonism. It’s what men fall for until they realize what they’ve fallen into. But, friends, if there are times when I tire you out, please don’t take to thinking I’m an “idiot,” a pain, a bore, a drama queen, a gossip. Help me become aware and present in the moment – ground me by giving my hand a gentle squeeze if my hyper levels are rising too high. Don’t let it go unsaid or turn away from me; talk to me about it calmly, kindly and clearly. Make light of it with me so we can just laugh together at the uniquely “crazy” wiring of my brain. Don’t let me go home alone thinking I’ve made a fool of myself, that I’ve annoyed you somehow, because little nuggets of doubt like that — well, I think you get the gist by now — find their way to maximum volume in no time at all and it’s loud enough inside this brain already.

Finally, to borderlines who have found themselves nodding their way through this, you may well (as I do) get stuck on those people who haven’t found the strength to work at your friendship (and sadly miss out on the wealth of loyalty and love that are the rewards of having a borderline friend). Aren’t those the people you find yourself wishing you hadn’t upset, spending hours dwelling over and dissecting a probably quite minor interaction with? I have to continually remind myself that if they can’t find the time for me, then I shouldn’t waste any on them.

And if you really stop and think about it, whilst you’re busying torturing yourself, you and that interaction is probably the furthest thing from their minds. The friends who thank you for sharing articles like this with them, who take the time to read them, applaud your boldness in shouting about them on social media and see them as a useful resource in their ability to keep supporting you – now aren’t they are the true friends? My true, dearest friends who will have read this to the end and are thereby now rewarded with a debt of gratitude for never giving up on me and finding a way to love me despite all the madness.

Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash